Hope that Jan. 25 Demonstrations May Mark a New Direction for Egypt

There have been many demonstrations for political rights in Egypt, but many activists are saying they have never seen the level of excitement that they are seeing around the Jan. 25 demonstrations set for sites throughout Egypt (with some solidarity marches planned in the U.S. and elsewhere).

Now the question is how the Egyptian security authorities will respond.

The difference, of course, is the lightning bolt provided by the Tunisian revolution this month, which has energized human rights and democracy activists in Egypt and throughout the region.  Egyptian activists have not been quiet over the past few year but the combination of stale economic growth, a tiring number of instances of government corruption and yet another unfair national election marred by government limits on political activity, the possibility of change does seem to be plausible.

But there have been reports of police threats to take action against demonstrators. Opposition activists, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization and the National Association for Change, have reportedly been summoned and threatened with arrest and detention if they go ahead with plans to protest.

Jan. 25 is a national holiday to celebrate the achievements of the Egyptian police force.

“Egypt needs to allow peaceful protests, and stop arresting and intimidating peaceful opposition activists” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa program.   “The country’s security forces have a worrying record when dealing with demonstrators, and we urge them to refrain from excessive and disproportionate force tomorrow.”

Hopes have been raised before in Egypt, only to be stopped by a combination of oppressive government response and opposition in-fighting.  Some blame the international community for continuing to support the Mubarak regime without pushing for change. But for a long time, activists have sensed that “long arc of justice” working in their favor.  If this is their time, they need to know the international community is behind them now and unequivocally.

For those who would like to follow reports of the demonstrations, activists have set a Twitter hastag of #Jan25.

Jan. 25 Update: The best English-language review of the day’s event, which included large number of arrests, can be found here.